How They Play the Game

An evening at Malakal National Hotel

I take a beer at the hotel bar as I read the news on my phone. Two women sit at the table across from me and I catch their glances from time to time. Eventually the younger of the two gestures to me. Neither is attractive and both are rotundly overweight but I join them at their table because I am a few days alone and this is what you do. They begin with the common pleasantries and my responses are succinct and absentminded but not rude, I think. I am in the mood for a conversation but I prefer that it be one I do not feel responsible for or that I would not be upset to walk away from.

I ask them if they are guests at the hotel.

‘No,’ says the older of the two, ‘we just saw the place when we were passing on the street.’

Then I knew that they are on the clock and this seems so very strange to me because they are so big and passed whatever prime they might have had.

‘Maybe you could buy us a drink,’ the older of the two says.

‘Sure, I can buy you a drink,’ I say, assenting because I have Kenyan shillings burning a hole in my pocket and because I am still curious about how they play the game.

There are more pleasantries during the time when the drinks are ordered and poured and delivered. In the other room, two musicians are playing popular covers and a large group of young North American missionaries sing along, drink beer, and shuttle between their rooms and the restaurant.

After a few pulls from her drink, the younger of the two ladies says, ‘I would like to give you a massage.’

‘Thank you but I don’t think that I am needing a massage,’ I say.

‘It would be like a thank you for buying the drinks,’ she explains and adds, ‘I like to give massages and I am very good.’

‘Thank you and I am sure you are,’ I reply, ‘but the drinks were my pleasure and I do not need anything in return.’

We sit a while longer and the small talk continues. A curious rendition of ‘Thriller’ is now playing in the other room.

‘Maybe you would like to spend the night with me - in your room?’ the young one offers.

I know that it has been coming to this and, it having come, I consider it, sort of as a small gesture to keeping an open mind about the world and its infinite possibilities. But the idea is unpleasant and the bearer of it can do nothing to dress up what it is.

‘Thank you,’ I say, smiling and making up a story because it seems the easier approach, ‘but I have a girl and I do not think she would like it much.’

‘She would not have to know.’

‘I would know,’ I say, ‘and, besides,’ I add, ‘she would know - they always know, don’t they.’

She tries again but lets it go when she perceives it is my lack of interest not my loyalty to my imaginary girl that she persuading against.

The pitch being made and rebuffed and remade and again rebuffed, the small talk is ended and we sit silently now. I finish my drink and I thank the ladies for their company and wish them a good night.

‘Maybe you could give money for a cab home,’ the older of the two suggests.

‘No sorry,’ I say as I am rising to my feet.

‘How about buying us another drink?’

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